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by Liam Kirkaldy
14 June 2019
Rejection of safer streets bill a 'damning indictment' of Scottish Parliament, warn environmental campaigners

Image credit: PA

Rejection of safer streets bill a 'damning indictment' of Scottish Parliament, warn environmental campaigners

Environmental campaigners have accused MSPs of paying “lip service to the need for a reduction in car use” after the Scottish Parliament voted down the ‘safer streets’ bill, aimed at reducing the default speed limit from 30mph to 20mph.

The bill, introduced by Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell in an attempt to reduce roads deaths and tackle air pollution, was rejected by 83 to 26, with the Scottish Government, Scottish Conservatives and Lib Dems all in opposition.

The bill would have set 20mph as the standard speed limit for restricted roads, residential and minor roads in urban and rural areas, leaving local authorities to designate specific 30mph zones.

The vote followed a report from the rural economy committee finding the "one size fits all approach proposed in the bill is not appropriate", with Transport Secretary Michael Matheson then adding: "local authorities are best placed to make local decisions, based on their local knowledge and evidence, on where 20 mph speed limits should be implemented".

But Ruskell hit out at opposition, accusing the Scottish Government of joining forces with the Tories and Lib Dems “to block a bill which would have saved lives”.

He said: “It would have made our streets safer for children to play in, it would have made them cleaner and it would have promoted walking and cycling. It had the backing of councils, health organisations and the public.

“Despite all that the Scottish Government have acquiesced to the demands of the motoring lobby and voted to maintain a postcode lottery of road safety which puts lives at risk.”

The vote also came under criticism from Scottish Labour MSP Colin Smyth. He said: “This is a setback to the safety of Scotland’s children and an opportunity to save lives has been lost.”

But while the Scottish Conservatives voted against the general principles of the bill, with MSP Jamie Greene arguing its effects on average speeds “would be negligible”, he suggested the party would work with Ruskell to reduce barriers to establishing 20mph zones.

He said: “Mark Ruskell’s aims and ambitions are laudable, and I hope that he will command the respect of the chamber for introducing his bill.

“However, in my view, it is the wrong answer to the right question. Mr Ruskell can rest assured that, if the government does not react to his concerns or to the committee’s concerns, Conservative members will work with him and anybody else to ensure that, if there continue to be barriers to establishing 20mph zones where they are wanted, he will have our support in tackling them.”

But Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner Gavin Thomson warned “The defeat of this bill is a damning indictment of a parliament that pays lip service to the need for a reduction in car use, but refuses to even pass a modest, popular measure to protect pedestrians’ lives.”

He added: "This bill would have saved lives, and reduced the number of serious accidents. The bill would have reduced air pollution by making traffic flow more smoothly. It would have increased rates of walking and cycling, while reducing health inequalities.

“Children growing up in our towns and cities should be able to feel safe to walk, cycle, and play in their neighbourhoods. Making drivers slow to 20mph can help to achieve friendlier, safer, and cleaner streets that will benefit everyone else using the road. Surveys have shown the Scottish public very much supports 20mph speed limits, and the fight for safer streets will continue”.

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